Prior to yesterday’s annual Metropolitan Police Department performance oversight hearing—for which 40 people signed up to testify—54 local organizations signed a letter demanding the D.C. Council hold a separate public hearing to address allegations of racism and violence within the MPD. The letter, which was co-authored by the Stop Police Terror Project and Black Lives Matter DC, states that “over the past several years we have seen significant factual evidence to demonstrate an ongoing culture of racism, bias, and violence within the Metropolitan Police Department.”
Yesterday’s hearing—which was led by Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety—stretched on for nearly six hours and saw several activists kicked out for loudly and aggressively interrupting MPD Chief Peter Newsham‘s testimony. Public witnesses, including activists representing a number of organizations who signed the letter, testified against the MPD’s conduct, often times emotionally as they described instances of racial bias committed by MPD officers that they’ve experienced or witnessed.
Before the hearing, April Goggans, the core organizer of Black Lives Matter DC, told City Paper that “there’s an incredible amount of public displays of white supremacy and racism in D.C. recently,” referencing the rise in hate crimes and displays of racial violence among neighborhoods and local college campuses. “Between [police] shootings, J20, and this incessant need to keep using people’s fear instead of fact, it’s not right for them to ask for more money,” she said.
The letter, which was sent to every Councilmember, “demands” the Council to “hold a specific hearing on issues of racism and violence within the Metropolitan Police Department outside of normal working hours.” It also highlights specific examples of alleged racial bias and violence committed by the MPD, which includes the disproportionate number of marijuana-related arrests of black residents, concerns of field contact stops, and the MPD’s use of force.
In data released by the MPD late last month, the department found that, between 2012 and 2016, 83 percent of all “stop and frisk” searches in D.C. were of black residents. The letter the activists wrote also says this trend “extends … to the extreme leniency shown towards officers who kill people,” adding that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has “very rarely brought an officer to trial on a use of force complaint.”
In the case of Terrence Sterling, a 31-year-old unarmed motorcyclist who was shot and killed by MPD officer Brian Trainer following a high-speed chase, and internal MPD review concluded that the shooting was unjustified. The family of Sterling was awarded a $3.5 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit, the Post reports. Currently, Trainer is on paid administrative leave, and D.C. police officials recommended he be fired. Trainer is challenging the recommendation and a hearing is schedule for next month.
Several activists were kicked out during Newsham’s testimony and questioning from Allen. After several interruptions and repeated warnings, an annoyed Allen finally had activists removed from the hearing after they loudly criticized Newsham for allegedly lying about MPD conduct and policies. “I’m an immigrant and where I come from you can not lie while you’re doing a testimony, and he’s lying,” one activist can be heard saying about Newsham. “Like he does all the time,” another says.